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Union Leader's Abduction Highlights Iran's Crackdown On Labor Protests

By Golnaz Esfandiari
July 12, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- There is growing concern about the fate of Mansur Osanlu, a prominent Iranian union leader who was recently abducted in Tehran.

Mansur Osanlu was pulled from a bus in Tehran two days ago by unidentified men who yelled at the passengers to stay away and called him a "thug." They then forced him into a car and drove away.

Mansur Osanlu in London last month

Eyewitnesses say Osanlu -- the director of the Syndicate Workers of the Tehran Bus Company -- was beaten severely and that his attackers continued to beat him after they stuffed him into the car.

In recent months dozens of workers and union activists who participated in protest actions have been harassed, detained, summoned to court, and even jailed.

Whereabouts Unknown

Since then his family and friends have sought to find out where he is. But all the authorities they have contacted have denied they are holding him.

Ebrahim Madadi, the deputy director of Osanlu's union, spoke to Radio Farda shortly after the incident.

"In the continuation of our search we -- Osanlu's wife, brother, and me -- went to the Narmak police station and from there we went to the public safety police and to a revolutionary court on Moalem Street," Madadi said. "Unfortunately we didn't obtain any news [about Osanlu]."

Radio Farda reports that the Iranian judiciary has said that an arrest warrant has not been issued for Osanlu and his disappearance has been referred to a criminal court.

Pattern Of Treatment

But many observers believe that Osanlu is in the custody of an Iranian government body.

The International Transport Federation (ITF) said in a July 11 statement that given the past history of treatment of Osanlu -- he has repeatedly been arrested, prosecuted, and jailed since December 2005 for his union activities -- there is a strong reason to believe that an agency of the Iranian government is responsible for the abduction.

The Paris-based Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders has also expressed its deep concern for the safety of Osanlu and said that it and fears that his abduction might be directly linked to his trade-union activities.

Abdolfatah Soltani is a member of Tehran's Center for Human Rights Defenders. He told Radio Farda that Osanlu's treatment is an example of growing state pressure on critics and student activists and workers.

"By creating fear [the authorities] want to prevent the activities and silence of all those who criticize their performance," Soltani said. "But we all know that it is not possible to destroy an idea by force, it is not possible to control all people by force."

In recent months dozens of workers and union activists who participated in protest actions have been harassed, detained, summoned to court, and even jailed.

Radio Farda reports that on July 10, 11 workers who had participated in a May 1 protest were put on trial by a court in Sanandaj, in Kurdistan Province.

Two more workers are due to be tried by the same court on July 14.

Meanwhile, the website of Iran's ILNA news agency -- which had been under government pressure because of its coverage of workers protests -- was blocked on July 11.

The move by the country's judiciary came after it allowed ILNA to resume operations following a weeklong suspension of the agency and the appointment of a new director.

An unnamed judge was quoted by Iranian media as saying the decision to block the website followed "many complaints."

(Radio Farda contributed to this report.)

Copyright (c) 2007 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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